E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
Figures of Speech
Here again we must refer our readers to our larger work on this great subject.* (* Figures of Speech used in the Bible, by the same author and publisher. Consisting of 1,104 pages (large 8vo), five Appendices, and seven Indexes.). When we say that most of the errors which cause our unhappy divisions to-day, arise from either taking literally that which is Figurative, or from taking Figuratively that which is literal, the importance of this branch of study cannot be overrated. And yet it is practically neglected.
Only a few writers, who may all be counted on one hand, have ever bestowed any attention to the subject. And yet it lies at the very root of all translation; and it is the key to true interpretation.
John Vilant Macbeth, Professor of Rhetoric, etc., in the University of West Virginia, has said: "There is no even tolerably good treatise on Figures existing at present in our language. Is there in any other tongue? There is no consecutive discussion of them of more than a few pages; the examples brought forward by all others being trivial in the extreme, and threadbare; while the main conception of what constitutes the chief class of Figures is altogether narrow, erroneous, and unphilosophical. Writers generally, even the ablest, are wholly in the dark as to the precise distinction between a Trope and a Metonymy; and very few even of literary men have so much as heard of Hypocatastasis."
This witness is true. Journalism to-day has no idea of the subject. It never rises beyond a Metaphor; and it talks glibly of "Mixed Metaphors" as though there was no other Figure of Speech, and as though all Figures were "Metaphors." The late Dean Alford often sneered at the Figure Hendiadys; and hardly a commentator gives any heed to Figures of Speech except John Albert Bengel. And since his Commentary was published (1687-1752) no commentator has taken up the subject or applied it to the elucidation of Scripture, as Bengel did.
No one invented Figures of Speech. Everyone uses them, unknowingly. They arise of necessity in the use of language. A Figure relates to form. When we speak of a person being "a Figure" we mean that he or she is dressed out of the usual or common fashion, as to colour or cut or material. So, a Figure is a word used out of its ordinary sense; or put out of its usual order in a sentence; or it is a sentence thrown into a peculiar form, or expressing a thing in an unusual manner.
A Figure is a departure from the natural and fixed laws of grammar; a legitimate departure from law: not arising from ignorance or accident, but from design. This departure is made with the set purpose of calling attention to what is said, in order to emphasize it.
Hence, the Figures, when used in connection with the "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth," give us the Holy Spirit's own marking, so to speak, of our Bible. We hear of a "marked Testament," but the marking is made by human beings according to the marker's own idea of what is important. How much more wonderful and important it must be to have the Holy Spirit's own marking; calling our attention to what He desires us to notice for our learning, as being emphatic, and conveying His own special teaching.
A Figure may not be true to fact, but it is true to feeling, and truer to truth. We may say "the ground needs rain": that is a plain, cold statement of fact. But if we say "the ground is thirsty," we at once use a Figure, not so true to fact, but truer to reality, and to feeling; full of warmth and life. Hence we say "the crops suffer," "a hard heart," "an iron will." Or when we say "the kettle boils" we do not mean the kettle, literally, but the water; nor do we state a fact. What we mean is that the water in the kettle boils. So when we say "the glass is rising" we mean the mercury, not the glass, or barometer. When we say "light the fire" we do not mean this literally, for fire is already alight; but what we mean is, put it to what we call the firing.
All these are Figures, and they all have names. These names were mostly given by the Greeks, centuries before Christ; and their number runs into hundreds, many of them having several varieties. In our own work of over 1,000 pages we have classified 217 Figures; and have given some 8,000 passages of Scripture illustrated by them. When we state that these are only given by way of example, it will be seen that another vast field of study lies open before the Bible student.
It will also be seen that it is impossible here to do more than thus call attention to it; otherwise we should like to give a few examples of Ellipsis, Metonymy, Metalepsis, Asyndeton, Polysyndeton, Hypocatastasis, and Metaphor, which last is a special Figure by itself and not a general name for any figure, as modern writers seem to think. We said that errors are built up on ignorance of Figures. These errors are therefore to be refuted not by argument merely, but by Scientific, Literary,a nd Grammatical facts. Thus:
And so with many passages which have created confusion to readers, difficulties to commentators, and divisions among brethren.
We earnestly commend, therefore, close attention to "Figures of Speech," without which no study of the Bible can be complete.